The Interpretation of Prophecy

INTRODUCTION:  Some say that prophecy is too hard to understand.  Everyone interprets the Bible differently and there is no correct way to interpret prophecy.  This is not true.  As in everything else, God gives us the guidance to understand the prophecy that He wrote.

  1. The Identity of Bible Prophecy (Amos 3:7)
    1. As Distinguished From Typology (John 3:14-15)
      1. Typology looks backward (antitype to type) - prophecy looks forward
      2. Typology is based on general similarities - prophecy is specific
    2. As Distinguished From Promises (2 Peter 1:1-4) - to promise is to give one’s word to do or not to do something
      1. Promises are often general in nature (Proverbs 22:6; Jeremiah 29:13) - prophecy is always specific
      2. Promises may be completely fulfilled many times - prophecy always has an ultimate fulfillment
      3. Promises are often very personal in nature (Hebrews 13:5) - from a particular person to a particular person -prophecy is more often factual in its declaration
    3. As Distinguished From Prediction
      1. Predictions are based on knowledge of the present - prophecy is based on knowledge of the future
      2. Predictions are often wrong (2 Kings 18:29-35) - prophecy (if from God) is never wrong
    4. The Character of True Prophecy
      1. Prophecy is unique to the character of God
        1. His eternity
          1. Eternal in His existence (Psalm 90:2; Psalm 93:2)
          2. Eternal in His habitation (Exodus 3:14; Isaiah 57:15)
            1. Dwelling in eternity
            2. Operating in time
        2. His omniscience (Psalm 147:4; Hebrews 4:13)
          1. In all things
          2. In future things (Isaiah 46:10; Isaiah 48:5-6; Acts 2:23; Acts 15:18)
        3. His immutability (Psalm 102:27; Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8)
      2. Prophecy is dependent in the revelation of God
        1. A product of revelation
          1. Definition - God revealing to man that which man could not know on his own.
          2. Topics - soul & spirit, heaven and hell, past and future
        2. An impossibility for man - man’s prophecies are:
          1. Faulty
          2. Fuzzy - Illustration - Nostradamus
          3. Fallible - even when he’s right, he’s wrong
      3. Prophecy is absolutely true in its record -The Three Tests of a Prophet
        1. Does the prophecy come to pass? (Deuteronomy 18:22)
        2. Does the prophecy agree with God’s revealed Word? (Isaiah 8:19-20)
        3. Does the prophet lead others to serve the true God?(Deuteronomy 13:1-5)
      4. Prophecy is understandable by means of the spirit (2 Peter 1:16-21)
        1. Given to God’s people
        2. Given to be understood
        3. Taught by the Spirit
        4. Taught to those who study
  2. The Spiritual Requirements of Bible Interpretation
    1. Personal Faith in Christ--Salvation (1 Corinthians 2:14)
    2. Faith in the Word of God (1 Thessalonians 2:13; cp. Hebrews 11:6)
    3. Earnest Desire to Hear God (Proverbs 18:1)
    4. Prayer For Guidance (Psalm 119:18)
    5. Teaching of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:9-14; Psalm 36:9)
    6. Fear of the Lord (Psalm 25:12,14; Proverbs 1:7; Proverbs 9:10; Proverbs 15:33) - this includes a readiness to respond to the truth of God
    7. Obedience to Revealed Truth (John 7:17; John 8:31-32)
  3. The Laws of Bible Interpretation
    1. The Law of the Words
      1. Every word of God is pure (Proverbs 30:5-6)
      2. A word’s usage determines its meaning
      3. Tools:  dictionaries, both English and Bible
      4. Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines charity as "supreme love to God”.  Biblically, this is wrong.  The Bible must be the final authority in all questions of definition and meaning.  See 1 Samuel 9:9; Matthew 1:23
      5. All words have a specific purpose.  They are verbally (each word) and plenarily (exactly chosen) inspired.  Example: thee, thou, ye, you;  Example #2:  will, shall.
    2. The Law of the Text
      1. Understand the sense of the reading (Nehemiah 8:8)
      2. The key to what a passage means is what the passage says
      3. Tools:  Grammar books, some Bible commentaries
      4. The argument Christ uses in Matthew 22:31-32 uses grammar to prove its point.
    3. The Law of the Context
      1. Each interpretation must agree with all the counsel of God (Acts 20:27)
      2. All truth must be understood in the light of surrounding truth.  This includes history, geography, custom, literary context, purpose of passage, speaker, recipient(s), time, surrounding events, dispensational context, and many other factors.
      3. Tools:  Bible dictionaries & encyclopedias; Bible atlases; references on Bible history, geography, customs
      4. Under-the-sun theology in Ecclesiastes 1:18; Ecclesiastes 2:11, 15-16, 24; Ecclesiastes 4:2-3
    4. The Law of Comparison
      1. Compare spiritual things with spiritual (1 Corinthians 2:13)
      2. By adding scriptures one to another truth is multiplied
      3. Tools:  Bible references; The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, Strong’s Bible Concordance
      4. Example:  Romans 9:27 with Romans 11:26
      5. Example:  Psalm 22:22; Hebrews 2:12; Matthew 26:30
    5. The Law of Construction
      1. Precept must be built upon precept (Isaaiah 28:9-10)
      2. Doctrines must be carefully built from all the Bible says about that subject
      3. Tools:  Books on Bible doctrine
      4. Sufferings of Christ:  John 5:39; Luke 24:25-27, 44-46
    6. The Law of Division
      1. The truth of God must be rightly divided (2 Timothy 2:15)
      2. The divisions of scripture must be correctly discerned
      3. Tools:  Rightly Dividing the Word by C. I. Scofield; Dispensational Truth by Clarence Larkin
      4. Study dispensations:  Ephesians 3:2-6
      5. Example:  food - Deuteronomy 14:1-20 with 1 Timothy 4:3-5
    7. The Law of Application
      1. All scripture is profitable for the believer (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
      2. No scripture is fully understood until it means something to you
      3. Tools:  Books by practical authors;  e.g., prayer:  E. M. Bounds
      4. See 1 Corinthians 10:6-11; Romans 15:4
  4. The Laws of Prophetic Interpretation
    1. The Law of Literal Interpretation
      1. The words of prophecy should be taken in their plain, literal sense unless text or context gives compelling evidence that the language is figurative.
      2. Examples
        1. Josiah (1 Kings 13:1-22 Kings 23:15-16)
        2. Cyrus (Isaiah 44:28; Isaiah 45:1-4,13; 2 Chronicles 36:22-23)
        3. Virgin Birth (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:20-23)
        4. Voice in the Wilderness (Isaiah 40:3; Luke 1:80; Matthew 3:1)
    2. The Law of Figurative Language
      1. Figurative language is used in prophecy to teach literal truth.
        1. Similes [using like or as ] (Revelation 1:12-17)
        2. Metaphors
          1. Revelation 1:5 - “washed us from our sins in his own blood”
          2. Revelation 3:8 - “an open door”
      2. The symbols of prophecy are explained in prophecy
        1. Identified in immediate context (Revelation 1:12,16,20; Revelation 12:9)
        2. Identified elsewhere in the Bible (Revelation 13:1 with Daniel 7:1- 3,7,23-24)
        3. Identified by common sense (Revelation 6:4; red=blood; bloodshed)
    3. The Law of Time Perspective
      1. God views prophecy from the perspective of eternity (Isaiah 57:15)
      2. Prophecy may be described in future, present or even past tense - Illustration:  Isaiah 53 -- The Suffering Saviour (see table at end of this outline)
    4. The Law of Condensed Intervals
      1. In prophetic passages, two events which greatly separated by time may be spoken of together without any mention of any time interval
        1. Luke 4:16-21 with Isaiah 61:1-3
        2. Zechariah 9:9-10
      2. Sometimes prophecy only recognizes certain mountain peaks of prophecy which from a distance seem very close together but from the standpoint of those in the valleys between them may seem very far apart.
    5. The Law of Double Reference
      1. Some prophecies are partially fulfilled in history only to be completely fulfilled at a later time
      2. Examples
        1. Hosea 11:1 with  Matthew 2:14-15
        2. 2 Samuel 7:12-16 [Solomon - Christ]
        3. Babylon destroyed - Jeremiah 50 and 51 with Revelation 18:9-21
    6. The Law of Conditional Prophecy
      1. Prophecy is not conditional unless stated or demonstrated to be so.
      2. Examples of conditional prophecy
        1. Genesis 2:16-17
        2. Deuteronomy 28:1,15; Deuteronomy 30:15-18; cp. Deuteronomy 31:28-29
        3. Jonah 3:1-10; Jonah 4:1-2
    7. The Law of Historical Progression
      1. Each age of Bible inspiration adds more detail and depth to the basic themes of prophecy  [Illustration Numbers 24:14 to Daniel to Revelation]
      2. Many prophetic truths will be easier to understand as those events draw nearer  (Daniel 12:8-10)
  5. The History of Prophetic Interpretation - as defined by the kingdom age and the return of Christ
    1. The Early Age of Premillenialism - during the first two centuries after Christ everyone was premillenial
    2. The Rise of Amillenialism - amillenialism begin with Origen and others in the school of Alexandria, Egypt and spread to the west through the teaching of Augustine
    3. The Rise of Postmillenialism - postmillenialism, the teaching that the world would grow better and better until climaxing in a golden age, was popularized by Daniel Whitby (1638-1735) in the seventeenth century
    4. The Revival of Premillenialism - premillenialism revived as a major force in the nineteenth century as a renewed emphasis on the Bible and its literal interpretation
    5. Major Views Held Today
      1. The premillenial view held by those who take the Bible literally
      2. The conservative amillenial view held by those who believe in a literal heaven and hell, a literal resurrection, a future judgment on both the righteous and the wicked and a second coming of Christ while rejecting the kingdom age
      3. The conservative postmillenial view by Reconstructionists who believe that they, through revival, education and political efforts, will bring the world to a time of peace and righteousness before Christ returns
      4. The liberal postmillenial view which rejects the literal resurrection of the body and the actual second coming of Christ
  6. The Major Themes of Bible Prophecy
    1. The History of the Gentiles
    2. The First Coming of Christ
    3. Israel and the Covenants
    4. The Church Age
    5. The Rapture and Tribulation Period
    6. The Second Coming of Christ
    7. The Kingdom Age
    8. The Judgments
    9. The Eternal State
The Law of Time Perspective
God views prophecy from the perspective of eternity (Isaiah 57:15)
Prophecy may be described in future, present or even past tense - Illustration:  Isaiah 53 -- The Suffering Saviour
VERSE PAST PRESENT FUTURE
1 X X
2 X
3 X X
4 X
5 X X
6 X
7 X X
8 X
9 X
10 X X
11 X
12 X X
David Reagan

Daily Proverb

Proverbs 26:10

The great God that formed all things both rewardeth the fool, and rewardeth transgressors.